Wildfire Insurance Claims Exceed $3 Billion So Far -- Costliest Ever in State

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An inmate firefighter monitors flames as a house burns in the Napa wine region in California on Oct. 9, 2017. (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Insurance claims for families and businesses affected by October's wildfires are now up to $3.3 billion, a number that is expected to rise as more claims are filed, said state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

The insurance claims are expected to be the most expensive in state history, surpassing the East Bay Hills fire of 1991 that cost $2.75 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

More than 8,900 structures were destroyed and over 245,000 acres were burned in the wildfires that ravaged the state earlier this month. Fifteen major insurers provided the claims data, but the number does not represent losses to the uninsured or public infrastructure, including schools, community centers and parks.

Jones said his department would do everything it could to be supportive of people in the effort to rebuild, but he urged caution.

"You desire, rightly so, to get your life back to normal," he said. "This can make you more vulnerable to those seeking to take advantage of you."

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Jones advised people to be careful before signing any contract, and urged them to make sure contractors were licensed through the Contractors State License Board. Public adjusters, who help with insurance claims, also need to be licensed, he said, referring people to the Insurance Commission's website.

Given the growing seriousness of the wildfires, Jones said state decision-makers would need to consider what the blazes mean for development.

"We continue to develop in areas where there are significant risks of fire. We continue not to have adequate local fire protection resources to fight those fires, and we shift costs to Cal Fire and the state," he said. "We continue to expect business as usual, notwithstanding these changes."

Jones said it's possible that insurance companies will reduce availability of insurance in areas previously thought to be low risk.

"The fires in Santa Rosa, for example, wiped out entire neighborhoods that were thought to be lower risk," he said. "It's quite possible that insurers in the wake of this event will revise their models -- not just for Santa Rosa, but for substantial portions of California."